New study looks at heart attack death rates

By Rachel DePompa - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Doctors at the VCU Medical Center are disputing a new study that's getting national attention. The study was published in USA Today and says the VCU Medical Center has the third highest death rate in Virginia for heart attack patients.

According to a study of the nations' 4200 hospitals, the VCU Medical Center's heart attack patient death rate is 19.8 percent. That's three points above the national average. But doctors says those numbers don't paint the full picture.

"I think it's very misleading," said Dr. George Vetrovec.

Dr. George Vetrovec is the VCU Medical Center's chief cardiologist. He says the number appears high only because VCU often treats patients other hospitals can't or won't.

"We certainly get transferred specialized problems that are far sicker because they have heart attacks," said Dr. Vetrovec.

VCU handles most of the areas under-insured and low income families.

"Patients who don't have insurance are sometimes slower to access health care and they may come in worse shape than had they accessed care sooner," said Dr. Ron Clark, VCU Chief Medical Officer.

Dr. Ron Clark and colleagues point out VCU was recently ranked one of the top 100 cardiovascular hospitals in the nation. People are sent here for the specialized care and extra technology that fills the halls.

"We think it's important for us to continue that mission to get those sickest patients. Who might not have another option and bring them here. Of course when they do come, they bring their significant illnesses with them," said Dr. Clark.

In fact, the medical center is about to do more heart transplants this year than ever before and is the only place in the region to get an artificial heart transplant.

"I think the population is what is driving this number rather than our quality of care. One could argue that outcomes could be a lot worst if we weren't as good as we were," Dr. Vetrovec said.

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